7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:7-21
Before the apostle John comes to our lengthy passage today, he writes in the previous chapter:
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
Here John is explaining the true meaning of love and is not trying to differentiate love based on who has or expresses it. But true love is what we can find in what Christ did, which is that He laid down His life for us. Therefore, as this is true love, which Christ has modeled for us, we too ought to lay down our life for our brothers. It is universal, meaning that as human beings created in God’s image we all should do what Christ did. Christians especially absolutely must imitate Christ even more.
Now, John reminds his audience of the first case of murder in history. In 1 John 3:12 John warns his audience that we ought not to be like Cain. Cain murdered his brother, Abel, out of envy. Cain did not love Abel, and so he felt no remorse even after killing his brother. And John calls Cain’s deed as evil. Then John concludes: “15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” John equates hate with murder. Why is that? This is something that is deeply spiritual. The secret of the human heart. Cain started with being angry. He was angry at his brother because his offering was rejected while his brother’s offering was accepted. Now, Jesus says in Matthew 5:22: “22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment”. Anger is a dangerous thing if we can’t handle it. In Cain’s heart, his anger turned into hate. And hate turned into action. And the action was murder. I’m not saying that anger is always bad. Sometimes we must be angry, especially when truth is violated, God is mocked, or when our family member is harmed. But when anger breeds hate, then the course toward murder is set. No wonder John says that if we hate our brother we have become a murderer.
I don’t know for sure whether there was a certain trouble among Christians in Asia Minor (Turkey) at that time that prompted John to write this letter. It could be that there was. It could be that some Christians there had developed anger toward one another. If that was the case then it was very wise for John to intervene before anything bad happened. So right from the start, John already reminded his audience of the command Jesus gives to His disciples: “to love one another.” John, the same apostle who wrote the gospel of John, writes in John 13:34-35 about Jesus’ command:
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John remembered his Master’s command. And he now passed it on to the church. This is the basis of the relationship between brothers and sisters in the Lord. Apparently John saw that the trouble in Asia Minor could escalate into hate and then destruction. Before anything like that happened, John brought them back to the center of Christian life, love. Love is the only thing that can prevent destruction from happening. This love, John reminded his audience, should be put into practice, and not just in talk. He urged the Christians to actually love one another.
Is this angry and hate thing only happened in the past? Or is this also happening in our modern world today? Among Christians we also hate one another. Among family members we too hate one another. Husband and wife very often also develop hate. Siblings too develop hate toward one another. Parents and children also hate each other at one point. Friends, even best friends, can turn against each other in hate. We hear about wars. We hear about people murdering other people. A teenager murders his parents and siblings. A young man kills his friends and teachers in school. A parent murders his wife and children. A religious fanatic murders people he hates so much in a deadly suicide bomb. So we ask: “What’s wrong with this world? What’s wrong with those people?” But those questions are actually also for us. The seed of hate lies within our heart as well. When we harbor hate and nurture it, it eventually will grow into an uncontrollable act of murder. The heart devoid of love is prone to be exploited by hate.
In the fallen-ness of our human nature we have lost the meaning of love. We no longer understand what love is. We no longer know how to love. So God, who Himself is love, must demonstrate love to us. His demonstration has become the model for our concept and action of love. In His most gentle action God shows the full extent of love in its truest sense. God the Father gave His Son to be the perfect sacrifice for our sake. Jesus the Son of God laid down His life for you and me. No other love is truer and greater than this. And this love in its truest sense must become our foundation for relating to one another.
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
We are said to abide in God when we love one another. We are already in God since we confess that Jesus is the Son of God. And we manifest our faith in Christ through our action of loving one another. It is therefore impossible to claim that we love God when we hate our brothers.
Such is the basis for our relationship with our brothers and sisters. Now love must be understood more fully. Our world today is eager to preach love. Not only among Christians do we speak of love. The secular world too preaches love. But the secular world’s love is not the same as the Christian love. The world’s love is the kind of love that demands all sins to be tolerated. Whereas the Christian love is the true love that cannot tolerate sin. Just like God does not tolerate sin, we too must not tolerate sin. I’ll give you an illustration. If you have a son or daughter, or nephew or niece, or a student, think about this. You know that 1+1=2. This is the truth. But now your son, or daughter, or nephew, or niece, or student, adamantly believes that 1+1=5. What would you do with it? Are you going to tolerate him/her in the name of love? Will you just let him/her continually believes that 1+1=5 because you love him/her? Isn’t it the opposite of love? If you truly love, are you not going to try to correct him/her? Or let’s do another illustration. The street is a dangerous place to play, agree? Let’s imagine you have a three year old son. And your son loves going to the street, not knowing the danger of cars and motorbikes that can bump him. But your son loves going to the street and loves attempting to cross it. Now, my question is: “Will you just let him do what he wants in the name of love? Will you allow him go to the dangerous street and risk his life just because you think you love him?” Isn’t it the opposite of love? If you truly love him, would you not stop him from endangering himself? Of course he will cry so loud when you stop him. All he can think about is that you are preventing him from having fun. But you know better.
Brothers and sisters, do not fall into the trap that the world is making. We use the word love. The same word, a symbol of a much larger concept, is also used by the world. But the meaning can be totally different. I have to warn you of this so you will not be fooled by the big word, love. That is why the apostle John too was meticulous when treating the word love. He has to remind his audience that love is not that we love God. But that God loves us. The true meaning of love can only be found in God. His action of sending His Son to save us, and Jesus’ action of laying down His life for us, is what love is all about. Unless we imitate what He did, we do not know love. Love is not some fuzzy feeling as portrayed in the Hollywood romantic movies. Love is not tolerating all kind of sins. That’s not love. That’s self-indulgence. True love requires sacrifice.
The chaos we witness in this world starts with the chaos in the family. Cain was a manifestation of the brokenness in family. His murdering Abel was the full fruit of hate and the devoid of love within. Adam and Eve inaugurated sin into the life of man. Ever since we have grown cold of true love. But God is restoring it through Jesus Christ. I don’t know each of your family life. But if it is within your power, strive hard for manifesting this true love in your family. Restore the meaning of love in your very own family. I can assure you that it won’t be easy. It will be very difficult. But if you persevere, you will witness a beautiful thing happening in your family life. And in turn you will witness how your own life and your family will influence the world. Not with the wrong kind of love, but with the true love as God Himself has shown to us. And most importantly, strive to manifest true love in the family of God. Sacrifice is never easy. But we need to practice it. When you ask how, I suggest you contemplate in Jesus’ life. He was born in a barn, and laid down in a manger, even though He is the creator of the whole wide world. Yet he did not complain. He was rejected all His life, even though He healed the sick, fed thousands of people, raised the dead, brought all good things into the world. He was bullied by the leaders of Israel, shoved around, chased off here and there, yet He continued to be merciful. He was tried unjustly by the religious court and by the state court, flogged without any wrongdoings, punished by death on the cross without any crime committed, yet He did not call the twelve legions of angel ready for battle at His command to come down and help Him. He died on that tree for our sake. Or otherwise we would be the ones being hanged on the cross and receiving God’s eternal wrath due sin. That’s the life of love that we ought to imitate.
Let me tell you about Dr. Liviu Librescu. He was a professor at Virginia Tech University. On April 16, 2007, a student by the name Seung-Hui Cho, a senior of the English department, came to the university ready to murder people. Cho had bought some guns for the sole purpose of killing people. He had recorded a chilling message full of hate. In that morning he suddenly open fire and killed 32 people. In his second attack, at the Norris Hall, he went from classrooms to classrooms looking for people to shoot. Professor Librescu, who was a holocaust survivor, acted quickly by shutting the door in his classroom, and blocked it with his own body as he ordered all his students to escape. Cho shot Librescu through the door five times and the last bullet went through his head. The professor died on the spot sacrificing himself for the sake of his students. He was seventy six. Librescu’s sacrificial act was an act of love. He laid down his life for his students. He could have run away together with the students. He could have lived. But instead of running away, he sacrificed himself in order to give a chance for others to live.
Brothers and sisters, to truly love we can’t just talk about it or enjoy all the fun in romantic atmosphere. True love means sacrifice. True love means putting others first than ourselves. True love means caring for others in truth. When true love fills our heart, actions of love overflow and touch the life of others. True love is never selfish. Examine our own hearts. Check whether we have true love. Ask the Lord of Love to teach us to love. It all starts with accepting God’s love to us in Jesus Christ. Then the true love within us will overflow and cause us to love others unconditionally. When true love fills our heart we will not tolerate sin, but we will have the desire to bring others back to the loving embrace of God the Father. When we have true love in our hearts we do not hate others, but instead we love them so we speak the truth to them. When we have true love in our hearts, we want others to be saved even though it might cost us our life. Librescu knew the meaning of true love. He did not second guess himself. He right away went for the door to block it even though he knew he would die for doing so. Brothers and sisters, love is the basis of our relationship. Make sure you know true love and not the fake love the world offers you. And when it is in your heart, act upon it. Follow the model that Jesus has given for us. Then the whole world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples, and children of God the Father. Amen.